Sunday, 8 December 2013

Give a Child a Book - and Give Them the World!

“Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside them, and it’s much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world.”– Neil Gaiman

In my role as a book-seller, I frequently meet parents and grandparents wishing to impart their own love of reading to the children in their lives. This is a wonderful and admirable thing – what better gift to give a child than a whole world at their fingertips? Any reader will tell you that books – especially those we read at pivotal moments in our development – have the power to shape our lives. In a child’s limited experience of the world, books provide opportunities for travel, adventure, love, friendship, knowledge, wisdom and infinitely more. Neil Gaiman’s message rings true: books will broaden a child’s horizons further than any other gift under $20 possibly could. While I could extol the virtues of reading for hours, you probably already agree with me there. What I should note is that while books make great gifts, a carefully selected book series is even better.

To introduce a young reader to a series of books is to offer them a universe all of their own, to which they may retreat for solitude and reflection, to meet with old friends, seek new adventures and vanquish enemies of the past. A favourite series bestows a reassuring sense of familiarity and continuity each time it is visited – a rare thing in a too often turbulent world. So, to help you find the perfect book series for the young reader in your life, we have compiled a list of the best current children’s and young adult series for this holiday season:

Kids aged 5-7 years 

The Andy G Picture Books series: Will appeal especially to boys (and some girls) aged 5+ who have a quirky sense of humour & whose reading skills are still emerging. Colour pictures by Terry Denton.

The Lulu Bell series: Perfect for kids, particularly girls, aged 6+ who love animals & are ready for an engaging first chapter book series with funny characters & cute illustrations.

The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno & Alberta series: Crime-fighting guinea pigs, mind-bending puzzles and hilarious illustrations – what more can we say? Suits boys & girls aged 6+.

The Don't Look Now series: Innovative & hilarious new series which relies on both text & cartoons to convey the story, making it perfect for kids aged 7+ or slightly older reluctant readers.

Kids aged 8-10 years

The Treehouse series: Children aged 8+ are going bananas for this very funny & fantastical series by Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton – an excellent series for sparking the imagination of young readers.

The Lonely Planet Not-For-Parents series: A unique range of non-fiction titles exploring the culture & history of countries across the world. Features bold colours & engaging content for readers 8+.

The All the Wrong Questions series: Quirky, mysterious & darkly funny, these books will appeal to fans of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Best suited to mature-minded readers aged 9+.

The Ruby Redfort series: Genius code-cracker & daring detective, Ruby Redfort, scores a spin-off series from the Clarice Bean books. Hilarious & exciting adventures for girls & boys aged 10+.

Kids aged 11-13 years

The City of Orphans series: Readers aged 11+ who enjoy fantasy and are not easily scared will love this series set in Dickensian London which features a host of fiendish monsters. Classic Good V Evil.

The Girl V the World series: An enjoyable series of short realistic fiction especially written for reluctant female readers aged 12+. Sensitively deals with first love, bullying, social pressures, etc.

The Tribe series: 2013 might well be considered the year of dystopian YA, but this is fresh dystopian drama with an ecological twist. Thrilling, intelligent & engrossing books for readers aged 12+.

The Every series: The first in a planned series, Every Breath by a debut Australian author is a force to be reckoned with. Age-appropriate murder-mystery meets unconventional romance for readers 13+.

Kids aged 14+

The BZRK series: Dystopian sci-fi from a master of the genre, this series offers a dark & fascinating vision of the future. Great for teens interested in technology & science, especially boys 14+.

The Twinmaker series: More dystopian sci-fi because, well, teens love it! This is another thriller with a focus on out-of-control technology. Butt-kicking female protagonist will appeal to guys or girls 14+.

The Smitten series: A light-hearted series of realistic fiction written for girls with no interest in fantasy or the paranormal. Themes of romance & friendship abound – perfect for girly-girls 14+.

The Selection series: A curious mix of futuristic melodrama and traditional fairy tale. Aimed at girls 14+, this series will appeal to young adults who like their romance with just a little twist of fantasy.

And that’s the list! I hope you've found something to share with the young reader you’re buying for these holidays but if you’d like some more ideas, don’t hesitate to ask your local book-seller for makes our day! There is no better gift than a thoughtfully selected book because, in the words of Garrison Keillor, “a book is a gift you can open again and again.” On behalf of the Cereal Readers team, we wish you a merry Christmas – and a year ahead filled with many, many hours of happy reading.

Kara Smith

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Pull on a Halloween Costume and Slip into Another Skin…

Halloween was one of the two cultural events I missed most after living in the US (the other being Thanksgiving). It’s not that I enjoy horror or the macabre; in fact, I’ve never seen a horror movie and have a remarkably low threshold for blood and gore. You might wonder then—if you’re not American—how Halloween could hold any appeal for me.

With co-workers at Jamal's annual Halloween party (1995)
At one time, I might have wondered, too. But Halloween is a day when it’s perfectly acceptable for adults to dress up and be frivolous—something of a return to the days of childhood, complete with imaginings of who you might be in another skin...not to mention the opportunity to eat ridiculous amounts of candy! It’s culturally embedded fun and silliness.

Hard at work: two of the 'Three Amigos!' (1996)
Surprisingly (and unlike any other holiday I can think of) Halloween is more fun if you go to work! It's hard to believe the effort many people go to with costumes, and their willingness to wear awkward and uncomfortable outfits for an entire day.  Even better! Each Halloween affords not one but two opportunities to dress up: one for the day at the office; one for the party at night! (Trust me: all day in one of those synthetic costumes and you definitely have to change before going out.)

Houses decked out in themed decorations and garden paths with movement sensors setting off spine-chilling laughs, creaking doors or thunder claps. Halloween baking; cupcakes and cookies iced with spider webs. The house across the street from us in Mountain View went all out to create the right atmosphere for the intrepid young trick or treaters. They spent days rigging a mock ‘house of horrors’ that ran from the sidewalk to the front door. Music, lighting, props, smoke...

Martina's creative Halloween baking

When we returned from California in 1999, I was keen to celebrate Halloween with my young nieces and son. Not only did I miss the holiday, but my son was American; this was part of his cultural heritage! There was no hope of trick-or-treating at that time, however, because no one would have any candy to hand out!

Not to be thwarted, I invented ‘reverse trick-or-treating’. This consisted of dressing up and distributing bags of candy at each of the houses in the (thankfully small) street. The neighbours were understandably very surprised when they opened their doors, but appreciative! We had a lot of fun dressing up and traipsing around, and my son made quite an adorable pumpkin—even though he really disliked the rustle of tissue paper that filled out his costume.

Four gypsies...and a pumpkin (1999)

In Australia, the popularity of Halloween has grown markedly in the last decade, with Australian stores now stocking Halloween costumes, decorations and candy. I’m not sure, however, that we can ever attain the cultural link which makes Halloween uniquely American.

For me, Halloween is much less about ‘horror’ and much more about the magic of imagination, dressing up and a return to childhood... Ultimately, it’s about the chance to slip into someone else’s skin—and when I think about it, doesn’t that cover just about every book we ever read?

Marielle Rebbechi

Saturday, 21 September 2013

"There is no hook turn at Brunswick Road..."!

Friday night was the Castlemaine book launch party for Ellie Marney’s first young adult novel, Every Breath (Allen and Unwin). The official launch was at Readings in Carlton the week before, but this was an opportunity for Ellie to celebrate with family and friends in the close-knit community and to acknowledge the support they’d given her. It was definitely a party for all ages, with a stream of young children tightly clutching chocolate cake, ducking and weaving between adults...

Ellie is passionate about family, the ties that bind, and writing stories that feature sharp-witted female protagonists. Change, love and growth are recurring themes in her writing - as are country life and people which, ironically, she is able to bring to her new novel, despite its inner-city setting.

Every Breath is a gripping crime thriller set in Melbourne, refreshingly sans the paranormal or the dystopian (that's not to deny my own enjoyment of the dystopian genre, but variety is important). On Friday evening, Ellie read an entertaining exchange between three of the main characters as they bicker over inner-city directions. It's a section that is representative of the book’s authentic dialog, and culminates in Rachel's exasperated shout: "THERE IS NO HOOK TURN AT BRUNSWICK ROAD, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD - "!

I thoroughly enjoyed Every Breath, which is the first in a trilogy series titled, 'Every', and I'm pleased to have a signed copy to give away. Simply email: You can read my full review below.
Ellie Marney signing a copy of  her YA novel, 'Every Breath'. Email to win!


Every Breath is a breath of fresh air in the mushrooming realm of young adult fiction. Ellie Marney has written a crime novel rich in romance, flawed characters and realistic dialogue, with an edgy storyline that quickly draws the reader in with its moody narration. 

When we meet Watts and Mycroft they are already good friends, navigating a complex and awkward relationship that resonates with the tension of new sexual awareness. The angular, intense, and somewhat desperate Mycroft pulls at the heart strings of Rachael Watts, a girl feeling displaced and resentful after the loss of her family’s farm and an enforced move to the city of Melbourne.

"Two people united by fate, or random chance, or the law of averages, or destiny, or a freak of nature, or pure dumb luck."

The two are inadvertently drawn into solving the murder of a homeless man they’ve befriended. Already keenly interested in forensics (an elective class they take at school) their inquiries and sleuthing lead them to some dark encounters. Despite admonishment from the police, the teens are compelled to continue their own investigations.

Two adolescents embarking on a murder investigation is a difficult storyline to keep grounded, yet Marney successfully walks that fine line between the believable and the just-plain-unlikely without crossing into farce.

A solid plot and genuine characters with great chemistry, combine to create a refreshing and authentic novel. It’s a thoroughly engaging story that’s hard to put down, and creates a mood that lingers long after. I am poised for books two and three in this crime trilogy, with the next in series, Every Word, due out in June 2014.

Click here to view the Every series on Cereal Readers.

Marielle Rebbechi

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

A Bright First Chapter for Cereal Readers

Amidst wintery weather just perfect for curling up inside with a book (well,  in the southern hemisphere, at least!) Cereal Readers celebrated its first birthday on August 18.

With this milestone we’re proud to announce our new membership feature, enabling readers to join Cereal Readers! As part of this first stage, members can post reviews and ratings on both books and series, while more extensive features will be unveiled in the months to come.

Given the unrelenting pace of each week and the many (as-yet) unreached aspirations I have for the website, it would’ve been easy to let this marker slip by unacknowledged. An anniversary is, however, a good opportunity to stop and look at just what has been accomplished over the last twelve months, so I took something of a little statistical ‘anniversary tour’. 

The website has certainly grown. We launched with a database of approximately 800 books in 125 series, and now have well over 1800 books in 270 series. If you’re interested in statistics, that’s an average of almost 7 books per series. There are so many great children’s books out there!

The online book world is enormous, just enormous! That being the case, I’ve been realistic—and very patient—waiting for the site to make its mark with search engines. I was understandably thrilled to discover that is well on its way to 1000 visitors a month, from a diverse range of countries. Being Australian-based, most of our site visitors are currently from Australia and New Zealand, however, it’s exciting to see that already more than a quarter of our visitors are from countries in North America and Europe. 

More than a year of cyber book-touring also confirms the uniqueness of our site, with all the information presented from the series perspective. Even after 18 months continuing to build our database of books, we have yet to find another website that operates anything like it.  

 "Even after 18 months continuing to build our database of books, we have yet to find another website that operates anything like it."

Kara & I with author, Kate Forsyth, Bendigo Writers' Festival

Acknowledging the achievements of the year would not be complete without recognising the fabulous contributions from Kara and Alex over the year. I am extremely fortunate to have them working with me on Cereal Readers. Kara’s passion for books and her social media flare have generated great exposure for the site, both in Australia and overseas, while Alex’s programming skills have enabled us to add new features, such as the expanded search function, and the new rating and review feature for members. As to our  more advanced member features slated for the coming year, I can’t reveal the nature of them just yet, so you'll have to stay tuned for the next book in this series!

Marielle Rebbechi

Friday, 21 June 2013

Can You Judge a Book by Its Cover?

Those who know me well, are resigned to my evangelical conversion to the e-reader. The convenience, accessibility of books and light-weight nature of the e-reader had me at "e". But that being the case, I still appreciate the beauty of the physical book, which my cherished library can attest to.

Perhaps what I miss most with e-books are the book covers; well, I miss some covers. There have certainly been times when the cover of a book—even a beloved novel—has been so...wrong, it’s quite off-putting. I don’t know I have any in my collection quite this disturbing, but here’s a couple from an article on ‘Flavorwire’ highlighting twenty of the worst covers for classical books. They’re so appallingly inappropriate you can only laugh 'til you cry.

The physical book, and covers in particular, can be problematic when “selling” a book to a child or teen.  Many booksparticularly classics that had a dated lookwere summarily rejected on that basis by my son, even though he loved to read. A musty or peculiar smell was another factor for rejection. Sometimes I was lucky enough to find an alternative edition of the book and present it at a later date, but usually once the judgement had been made—well, that was it. E-books circumvent this issue, as the cover art is rarely a consideration.

And that’s also the e-book shortfall when it comes to younger readers. The cover art is often that—art—and an engaging image, often a collation of story elements, imbeds itself in the memory along with the enjoyment of a  novel. Over recent years, I’ve given a great deal of thought to the pros and cons of the e-reader verses the physical book from the perspective of children and young adults, a topic I’ll explore another time as it's something of a digression from the topic of book covers.  

  Designing Book Covers

While the laughably inappropriate covers above are certainly poor examples of cover art, there are some beautiful and fanciful covers now decorating bookstore shelves. When creating a design that's engaging and attractive for the young adult market, a raft of considerations come into play. This interview with Tom Forget in the article, 'The Secret Lives of YA Cover Designers' provides some interesting insights.

When discussing this topic recently, Cereal Readers' Kara Smith nominated the book, 'Clockwork Princess' from the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare as one of her recent favourites, while I find the ethereal covers for the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series by Michelle Paver, both primitive and strangely moving.

Vintage book covers have their own unique appeal, often bundling our childhood memories into their bright illustrationsslipping us back in time as easily as those glossy jackets slide off the treasured hardbacks. A fond exploration of the tactile nature of vintage books and covers was recently the topic of a PaperPi blog. PaperPi pays homage to all things paper, highlighting its remarkable beauty and versatility.

Book covers. What started as a simple musing has become a delta of topics, too multifaceted to explore in just one post. For my colleague, Kara, book covers are a special subject indeed, and now she’s opened my eyes: there's a lot more to talk about! So, expect to see another blog or two on book covers in the not-too-distant future. If you have a particular cover—old or new—that says something special to you, please comment.

Marielle Rebbechi